wordplay, the crossword column
Adam Vincent gives the hard sell.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
WEDNESDAY PUZZLE — Congratulations to Adam Vincent, for whom this puzzle marks a second appearance in the New York Times Crossword!
Mr. Vincent describes the experience of developing this theme in his constructor notes below, but the story is a familiar one to many crossword constructors. So many themes, this one included, come into being when a constructor stumbles upon a unique or interesting feature of language — you might say they “Discover unexpectedly” a perfect revealer, or a word with many synonyms, or some other pattern of note.
We solvers then get to reap the benefits of these unexpected discoveries made by constructors, delighting in the wordplay that they have squeezed into a neat 15×15 box for us. Aren’t we lucky?!
10A. A fairly common clue type that appears in crossword puzzles asks you to identify a word that is a “partner” or “go-with” of another word. Essentially, the entry will be a word that can accompany the word in the clue with an “and” between them. In this case, the “Partner of willing” is ABLE because “willing and ABLE” is a common phrase.
40A. The “?” in “Passing remark?” signals that we are looking at a pun. In this case, although the words “Passing remark” typically refer to an offhand comment, here they refer instead to the passing of legislation, during which a lawmaker might remark “YEA.”
53A. I had to dig pretty deep for this bit of wordplay to click for me, possibly because I do a lot of hiking and had a hard time seeing past the “long walk in the woods” meaning of the word. Eventually I realized that “Snap back?” is a play on what a center might do to the ball in football: HIKE it to the quarterback.
57A. Speaking of football, “It shows a lot of plays, but no musicals” is a clever clue for ESPN, the sports networks that recaps sports plays but is unlikely to air a musical.
5D. Another “?” means another pun! Although “What floats your boat?” is one way to ask “what’s your preference?”, the clue is asking you what literally floats your boat. Although it could be any old body of water, the thing that floats your boat in this case is the SEA.
32D. This is a clue variety that is sometimes called faux-cryptic, because it relies on a feature of the characters that make up the words themselves rather than the meaning of the words, which is often the case in cryptic crossword puzzles. The clue “There are two in ‘101 Dalmatians’” refers to ONES because there are two ONES in “101.” Tricky!
56D. This clue alludes to John Donne’s “Meditation XVII” from “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions,” in which he instructs the reader to “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Thus, the clue “For whom the bell tolls” yields the entry THEE.
This puzzle’s theme doesn’t have a revealer, but it doesn’t need one. We have four two-word theme entries that are in-the-language phrases that contain a word that is a synonym for a persuasive speech act. For example, the first theme clue at 17A is “Please continue your generous support of the church,” which clues MASS APPEAL. It is an APPEAL to the listener to support MASS.
The next theme entry, PITTER PATTER, was the most interesting to me because I was unaware that PATTER was necessarily persuasive speech, but it held up upon Googling! The clue “This device makes prepping cherries a breeze” is so funny that I wouldn’t have minded even if PATTER wasn’t really similar to the other three, but it’s the pitless cherry on top that it really does work.
The other two phrases are equally silly and entertaining, with clues that emphasize that the speaker is trying to convince the solver of something. I’m sold!
The genesis of this puzzle came from an early 2019 brainstorming session on the word “state,” during which I noticed how many synonyms there are for the verb “say.” After playing around with different approaches, I honed in on finding two-word phrases that I could clue punnily (also using two words) as types of speeches. Among these phrases were STREET ADDRESS and PIZZA DELIVERY, both of which were included in an early version of this puzzle, clued as [Block quote?] and [Cheesy dish?] respectively.
Although this earlier version was accepted by the Chronicle of Higher Education (my first professional acceptance!), it didn’t have a chance to run before their crossword was discontinued. When I later submitted it to The Times, the team suggested restricting the theme answers to more persuasive speech types and cluing them as examples of what those speeches might say.
The final piece to fall was coming up with 27-Across — an entry that felt at first like a stretch but now is actually my favorite of the bunch. Something about the image of a salesperson hawking a niche single-use culinary item just feels right to me.
For those of you keeping track at home, this puzzle was accepted in its final form in mid-June 2020.
The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.
For tips on how to get started, read our series, “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle.”
Almost finished solving but need a bit more help? We’ve got you covered.
Warning: There be spoilers ahead, but subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.
Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.